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Most birding tours in Costa Rica are focused on traveling to destinations like the Caribbean lowlands and foothills, the cloud forest or Costa Rica’s massive Pacific tropical rainforest.
When planning your birding trip to Costa Rica, consider taking the time to visit the Nicoya Peninsula and Palo Verde National Park, in the province of Guanacaste.
Unlike the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, or Guanacaste National Park which are comprised of Dry Tropical Forest, Palo Verde covers over 20,000 hectares of dry tropical forest, wetlands, marshlands, and secondary forest.
This enormous protected area is an extremely important breeding ground for both resident birds and migratory species and is one of the best spots in the country for flora and fauna.
Everyday is a new experience in Palo Verde.
Palo Verde National Park is a favored destination for the iconic Jabiru Stork, Roseate Spoonbill and the Glossy Ibis and the area is fantastic for both serious birdwatchers and enthusiastic nature lovers.
For guests looking for the Jabiru Stork, it’s best to come from December through April. Not only will there be little if any rain during this time, but the Jabiru will show up to nest during these months.
During most of the year, the marshes, which can be viewed right from the biological station and reached within a few minutes’ walk, provide shelter for herons, storks, egrets, grebes, ibis, ducks, jacanas, and other waterfowl and web-footed birds, many of which are migratory. Along with an abundance of bird species, Palo Verde is home to many mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Scientists and researchers have logged more than sixty species of bats in the reserve and interestingly, it’s the home of the Mexican Burrowing Toad, an endangered species that lives underground and only comes out for mating during the early days of the wet season.
The reserve has one of the largest populations of crocodiles in Costa Rica too, so spotting one of these gigantic residents is likely.
Driving to Palo Verde National Park is not difficult. When traveling through Costa Rica, guests should use WAZE or Google Maps to find their way.
The National Park is located about 4.5 hours from the San Jose Airport, on the Pacific slope of the Guanacaste province. From the town of Bagaces, guests should turn south and follow the dirt road that leads directly to the National Park.
The park is located just about 2 hours from the Liberia International Airport.
For travel during the green season, visitors will definitely want a four-wheel drive vehicle as the unpaved roads become very rugged as soon as the rains begin.
Lodges for Birdwatching
1: Palo Verde Research Station (OTS):
In 1968, the Research Station was established to host scientific research in the Tempisque River delta and the surrounding wetlands and forests. Now, the station hosts visitors who are interested in birds, wildlife and ecology. The lodge is very rustic but provides private bathroom, bunk beds, and fans for each guest. It’s important to note that unlike the other OTS stations, hotel guests at the research station visitors still have to pay the admission fee to visit the reserve. Meals are included at the station and there are guides and naturalists available to provide tours for independent travelers. Guests should be prepared with insect repellent or mosquito nets.
2: La Ensenada Lodge:
La Ensenada has long been a favorite hotel to stay at for bird watchers. With an excellent proximity to the biological reserve and the Tempisque River plus their own sanctuary, bird watchers and photographers have an excellent opportunity to see all the top species of the area.
The lodge is rustic and provides a warm, family authenticity. The hacienda is over 800 acres of forest, fields, farmland. The views of the Gulf of Nicoya are spectacular.
3. Rancho Humo hotel:
If visitors are interested in the area but prefer a bit more luxury at their hotel, Rancho Humo is a very good choice. This hotel has deluxe accommodations and all the amenities one would expect at a 4 star lodge.
The location is excellent for visiting the biological reserve, and the Tempisque River, or exploring their own private reserve. The lodge has excellent dining, and service and provides a higher level of service than offered at the other lodge or the biological station.
Top Locations or Areas
1. Palo Verde National Park:
With 15 different habitats or life zones, the possibilities for seeing an intense array of bird species is there every day.
You can visit the National Park by foot or by boat.
There are several trails within the reserve including the El Guacayan and Cerros Calizos that lead to beautiful lookout points, La Roca Trail which gives guests a view of the lake and the Tempisque River, El Mapache Trail which highlights three habitats, lowland deciduous forest, limestone forest, and evergreen forest, the El Pizote Trail takes guests to the La Jacana boardwalk.
The Jacana Boardwalk is an 80 meter long walkway that extends over the Lake. It is a prime bird watching spot.
The La Cantera trail takes guests through the incredible nature to a lookout over the Tempisque River, and La Venada trail, the longest trail in the reserve, travels around the Lake. There are no boat trips within the national park.
They all take place on the Tempisque or Bebedero Rivers.
2. Isla Pajaros:
The Tempisque River flows from the Guanacaste Cordillera near the Orosi Volcano to the end of the Nicoya Peninsula and the Gulf of Nicoya. It is 144 kilometers (89 miles) long. At the mouth of the Tempisque River birders will find Isla Pajaros. This island is known to host up to 60 species of birds and is the largest nesting site of the Black Crowned Night Heron. Trips will include transfers, admission tickets, boat tour, and snacks.
3. Rio Bebedero:
A boat trip on the Rio Bebedero gives birders the chance to experience a unique habitat that is home to over 300 different species of birds. It’s a quiet, tranquil journey into lush forest. More than 600 species of plants have been found along the river banks. This is a superb area for Egrets, Herons, Osprey, Spoonbills, Ibis, Storks, and much more.
4. Lomas del Barbudal Biological Reserve:
This reserve is one of Costa Rica’s greatest hidden gems. The reserve is a relatively small park (compared to other reserves in Costa Rica) at 6538 acres.
This reserve borders Palo Verde and the entrance can be found just off Highway 1 between Bagaces and the city of Liberia.
This Park is home to one quarter of the world’s species of bees and wasps.
This is one of the few places to see the rare Panama Redwood Tree too.
There is a short walk from the trail head (about ¼ mile) to a pond that attracts a nice concentration of wildlife. Pacas can be seen, armadillos, the fishing bulldog bat, and although very rare, the Giant Anteater.
Palo Verde Tours
Palo Verde National Park river jungle safari:
Several companies offer tours on the Tempisque River. Tours can be tailored for birders or for general nature lovers.
The tours generally leave from the town of Bebedero and take guests by boat through the river and to the river mouth of the Tempisque.
Tours are in a covered boat but it is wise to wear a hat and bring sunscreen. Tour operators provide drinks and sometimes snacks.
Birders should keep an eye out for Osprey, Falcons, Storks, Egrets, Ibis, Raptors, Kingfishers, and much more. There are good chances to see crocodiles, racoons, monkeys and iguanas too.
Hiking at La Ensenada:
Even if you are not staying at La Ensenada Lodge you can arrange a day visit to hike and explore their sanctuary. Guests can experience dry tropical forest, mangroves, and fabulous views of the Gulf of Nicoya. There are four well marked trails, Sendero Pescadores for ducks and monkeys, Sendero Alcaravan for tropical dry forest birds, Sendero Mirador for reaching a beautiful look out point, and Sendero Salinas which takes visitors into the mangrove. This area is one of Costa Rica’s most unique.
La Ensenada Lodge also offers a lovely horseback riding adventure. The two hour journey takes visitors through the dry tropical forest, the salt ponds, the fresh water lagoon and then through the pasture area. The view over the Gulf of Nicoya is one of Costa Rica’s most unforgettable. Be sure to watch out for Howler Monkeys along the way.
Palo Verde National Park:
Whether your tour has you staying as a guest at the BioStation or another area hotel, it’s important to not miss a visit to Palo Verde National Park. It is such a unique place, with so many habitats and such a wide variety of flora and fauna, it is a wonderful place for the most avid bird watcher or the general nature lover. Guests can travel on a pre-planned tour or arrange for a guide directly with the station.
If you would like more information about a birding or photography tour to Costa Rica and would like to include a visit to Palo Verde National Park and the surrounding area, Costa Rica Focus would love to help you.
Inquire below to reach us at Costa Rica Focus. Let’s talk about your next (or first) Costa Rica trip.
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